Matt Doherty joined Wolverhampton Wanderers as an 18-year-old with big dreams in his eyes - to play in the Premier League and then the Champions League.
Close to 10 years after making his EPL debut, Doherty is now just a few wins away from his second dream.
A five-match unbeaten run, ahead of the COVID-19 induced temporary suspension of the League, had propelled Wolves to sixth in the table, trailing fourth-placed Chelsea by five points. With the English top division set to resume in a fortnight, Doherty and his teammates have nine games to close the gap and fulfill the long-cherished dream.
“Growing up I always wanted to play in the Premier League and now I get to resume living my dream, which is playing games and I can’t wait to get back. We were doing well before the break and I just can’t wait to resume and see where we finish,” Doherty tells Sportstar in an exclusive interaction.
“To hear the Champions League music playing as you walk out, that is really dreamy. We’re fighting on two fronts, in the Premier League and the Europa League, so a lot of things are possible. We believe we can qualify for the Champions League as we have beaten a lot of big teams this term,” he adds.
The 28-year-old Irishman says although social distancing norms are in place, it isn’t applicable during competitive football.
“We watched the Bundesliga and nothing has changed. Once the whistle goes, everything will be the same except for no fans in the stadium. We will still be tackling and be beside each other. It is impossible to be social distancing while playing football. Most of us have our heads around the fact that once we play again we will tackle and do everything we can to win and people won’t be shying away from that.”
Incidentally, the last game Wolves played was a closed-door affair. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men played out a 1-1 draw with Olympiacos in the Europa League. Doherty opined that it would take a while for footballers to get used to playing in quiet stadiums.
“It wasn’t ideal. It was a bit strange and the atmosphere between the players felt a bit flat. But I feel after 1-2 games we’ll get used to it and realise it is what it is and that we’ll be able to block out the fact that there are no fans. People might even be better because there are no fans and no pressure in the stadium.”
The side’s last win in the Premier League was a 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur, a game in which Doherty scored and made his 250th appearance for the club. And now he hopes Wolves can continue where they left off. “To win all nine matches will be difficult but we came off the back of a win over Tottenham and I don’t see why we can’t go and achieve something really special.”
When asked if he indulged in a few cheat meals through the lockdown, he quips, “A few? (laughs) I had about five cheat meals a week at one point! This is going to sound bad but…apple pie and custard was my favourite cheat meal. My girlfriend is trying to gain weight so she had been eating a lot of that and I tried not to watch her eat it but I fell apart a lot of times and gorged on it. And then went to bed feeling guilty.”
But now that the Premier League is back, it’s back to business for Doherty. “Full steam ahead, back to work and back to business,” he says.
(Catch live coverage of Premier League games on Star Sports Select from June 17.)
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